In a year of pop culture milestones, perhaps one of the biggest is the 35th anniversary of Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters. The original comedy-driven especial ffects blockbuster still ranks amongst the most popular films ever with fans (as attested by a new anniversary Steelbook DVD chock full of previously unearthed deleted scenes and both movies), and one of the films that's still driving new relaunch interest in Hollywood.
But for Annie Potts – the veteran comedian who plays the Ghostbusters' sardonic secretary Janine Melnitz in the original film and its sequel – the franchise is more a memory of a great acting job that never seems to fade away.
"It seems to be the thing that keeps on being of interest to people," Potts told CBR. "There are new generations now. In 35 years, that'd be three generations."
Though it would surprise the members of those generations of fans who can still quote the film like scripture how Potts and many of the Ghostbusters team think back on the film. "I remember it a little, but not a lot," she laughed. "I've had a very long career and am still working, so in order to move along and memorize the next batch of stuff I have to memorize, I kind of have to hit the erase button. There's just nothing left on that hard drive. So I remember none of it. But I'm always pleased when people say, 'I love when you said this or that.' Great!"
What does stand out in her memory is both the quality of the original screenplay by co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and the challenge of starring in a movie with improvisational comedians. "Rick [Moranis] brought a lot to it. I think he pretty much invented a completely different character from what was written," she said. "And I'm not sure Bill [Murray] ever read the script. Maybe he gently looked at a page or two. But Bill just comes to play.
"I had never been a part of an improve troupe. I did take some improv classes in school, but I didn't like it. I always just wanted a real good script, and in fact, the script for Ghostbuster was fabulous. So when people started playing around with it, I was like 'What are you doing? The words are fine. Just say the words.' But it's their craft that they were always kind of keeping it fresh. So that was a bit of a learning curve for me, but they were very open to change."
Though the film has remained popular over the years and elevated the name recognition of Potts and many of her fellow cast members, the team's ability to reminisce has been limited over three and a half decades. "I think that people tend to think we live in Hollywood and that we all know each other and have Sunday dinners at each others' house and cocktail parties and that kind of thing. But people come and go. We don't have steady jobs, so it's not been my experience that it's actually like that."
But after 35 years, the actress is able to pinpoint what makes Ghostbusters stand out even in an era where the multiplex has been entirely taken over by big effect films with their tongues in their cheeks. "Ghostbusters is sort of a standalone," she said. "When I first go that script, I thought 'This is so unique. There's never been anything like this.' And I think that's been the staying power of it. It's still fresh. I can't say that there were any copycats. For Sigourney [Weaver], I know she had the Alien movies come out, and there were a bunch of those. But the only thing I think is in that vein is Galaxy Quest, which is one of my favorite movies. It was so unique that there just wasn't a way to tap that vein much."
Yet, in the day-to-day, Potts doesn't cross paths with her ghostbusting past that much. "I can avoid it pretty well. When my children were younger, they enjoyed those movies. But I never thought of the character I was playing as me. And they weren't watching it for me, but occasionally when they were involved in it, I'd sit down and watch it again," she recalled. "But once I've done it, it's just an exercise in what I wished I'd done differently. It's set in stone now. But I do enjoy them. I'll watch for a minute, to stroll down memory lane."
Still, out in the world, there are plenty of reminders of Janine Melnitz in plastic toy form. "Occasionally someone will bring me something. I think when the last one came out with the girl cast, they issued a new doll, and it was a little scary. My children were gifted a few of those, where their mother looked a little scary as a doll. I don't collect that stuff for myself, but I think there's a whole lot of stuff coming out with Toy Story 4. I don't have enough room in my house for all of that!"
But fans shouldn't worry about quoting Ghostbusters to Annie Potts should you see her in real life - it won't bother her at all. "I never think about it. I don't," she said. "I grew up in a very small town in Kentucky. 5,000 people. Everybody knew everybody. My father was a very prominent businessman, and everybody knew him and my father. So I grew up in a place where everybody recognized me. That's sort of what being famous is like. It's being a recognized person, and I've been a recognized person my whole like. I just act like they know my parents."
Ghostbusters 35th Anniversary Steelbook DVD is on sale now.